When I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lᴏʀᴅ will be a light to me (Micah 7:8).
If you don’t have a daughter or granddaughter, you may not think this story is as relevant as it is: the popular doll maker American Girl has published A Smart Girls’ Guide: Body Image Book. The guidebook reportedly advises children struggling with body image issues to ask their doctors for puberty-blocking medications and encourages young girls to seek transgender support without parental consent “if you don’t have an adult you trust.”
In previous years, American Girl released a “Girl of the Year” character with lesbian aunts and other characters intended to help the company align with cultural shifts. The Federalist describes their agenda: “As customers reject traditional American values and celebrations of biological girlhood, the company adapts to remain profitable.” As a result, it is contributing to the ongoing strategy to normalize LGBTQ agendas and behaviors in our children.
In related news, Cambridge Dictionary has altered its definitions of the words man and woman. In their telling, a woman is now “an adult who lives and identifies as a female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.” The dictionary similarly defines a man as “an adult who lives and identifies as male though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.”
Such news is disheartening. But as I noted yesterday, there are opportunities in every obstacle. Today’s example comes from one of the most unlikely and yet inspiring places for Christians in the world.
Persecution against Christians rising in Cuba
The New York Times reports that the island nation of Cuba is facing the biggest migration of its people since Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959. The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with tighter US sanctions, has eviscerated the tourism industry, one of Cuba’s lifelines. Food is even more scarce and expensive; lines begin at dawn at pharmacies with scant supplies; millions of people endure daily hourslong blackouts.
According to a recent white paper for the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, attacks on religious freedom are escalating in Cuba as well. According to the report, “virtually all independent faith leaders say they are actively repressed.”
Many are facing death threats, violence, detentions, harassing phone calls, repeated summons to appear before the authorities, and acts of repudiation. Faith organizations are targets of high utility rates and tariffs that are “asphyxiating” their operations. Faith leaders and their families are discriminated against in access to education and employment; police interrupt religious services; Christians’ goods and services are arbitrarily confiscated. The report documents numerous specific and heartbreaking examples of persecution against Cuban Christians.
Praying for my pastor
And yet I can testify after ten trips to the island over the years that the Cuban Christians I know are the most vibrant, positive, evangelistic, and joyful believers I have ever met.
Their worship services are passionate on a level that feels like a foretaste of heaven (Revelation 7). Their leaders are some of the most brilliant and committed believers I have ever encountered. Their courage in the face of escalating persecution and daily life challenges is deeply humbling and inspiring.
When I traveled to Cuba for the first time more than twenty years ago, I was told that I would be teaching a nationwide group of pastors during an intensive theological retreat. And in fact, I did deliver a series of lectures and led numerous discussions. However, I soon learned that, in God’s providence, I was in Cuba far less so I could teach them than so they could teach me. The lessons I have learned from them over the years about genuine and courageous faith have been deeply transforming.
I pray every day for one particular Cuban pastor who is, in many ways, my personal pastor. And I pray daily for God’s protection and provision for this beautiful nation and its suffering people.
Two empowering facts
I tell you their story today to highlight two facts.
One: There is a direct correlation between the depth of our commitment to Christ and the price of that commitment.
Scripture testifies, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus was clear: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). The more fully you follow Jesus in our post-Christian culture, the more you hinder Satan’s work in that culture. And, as with any war, a belligerent targets those it considers its greatest threats.
Two: There is a direct correlation between the sacrifice of our service for Christ and the joy of that service.
The prophet testified, “When I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lᴏʀᴅ will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8). We are taught to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3).
In Acts 5, the apostles were arrested and forced to stand trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court. After preaching the gospel fearlessly to them, these early Christians were beaten and ordered “not to speak in the name of Jesus” (v. 40). How did they respond?
“They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (vv. 41–42).
The Cuban Christians I know experience such joy every day. So can we.
Will you today?